Of EU & India....

China is a “selective partner,” “competitor” and “systemic rival”, Portuguese foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva said while addressing a webinar with foreign minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday.

“The way we see institutions, the way we see political fundamentals, the way we see human rights, the way we see the role of civil society is very different when you see from the point of view of Brussels or when you speak from the view of Beijing,” Silva said at a webinar organised by the Observer Research Foundation think tank. “That is why in these crucial areas, our partner in Asia is not China, our partner in Asia is India,” he added. Jaishankar took a more restrained approach and said, “In the past 25 years, the rise of China has been one of the defining transformational trends.”

Jaishankar emphasised the importance of open supply chains, specially in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that to scale up vaccine production to meet the challenge of inoculating the world, Europe needed to keep open supply chains as well as consider a waiver of patents as proposed by India and South Africa at the WTO. The minister said without “dramatically” scaling up production, the world would not be able to deal with the challenges of today.

This has been a recurring message that India has put out in the world.


NCLT Okays Kalrock-Jalan Resolution Plan for Jet Airways

The bankruptcy court approved the resolution plan of Kalrock Capital and entrepreneur Murari Lal Jalan for reviving Jet Airways, almost two years after the defunct airline was admitted under the Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process.

The Mumbai bench of the National Company Law Tribunal, while allowing the resolution plan in an oral order, directed the successful bidders to get required approvals and licences from relevant authorities within 90 days.

The tribunal presided by judicial members Janab Mohammed Ajmal and V Nallasenapathy clarified that determination of landing slots to Jet Airways will be done by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation only, and the plan’s approval is subject to getting licences from the relevant departments.

This means the airline will not have historic rights over the landing slots available to Jet Airways before it was grounded in April 2019.

The Kalrock-Jalan consortium had sought the tribunal’s intervention to direct DGCA and the civil aviation ministry to approve the company historical rights on those landing slots.

Lawyers of Kalrock Capital and Jalan declined to comment on the matter immediately after the open court session, citing that the order was not uploaded yet.

“Our hard work over the last two years has paid off, and today’s order will pave the way for the revival of Jet Airways 2.0,” said Jet Airways’ resolution professional Ashish Chhawchharia who is a recovery and reorganisation partner at Grant Thornton Bharat.

“We will now work together with the Jalan-Kalrock consortium to facilitate a smooth implementation of the plan in the coming weeks,” he said. “The airline has been a national icon, and flyers have been eagerly waiting to see it in the skies again.”

The revival plan envisages starting operation with 30 aircraft within six months from the approval of the plan by NCLT.

The company had received claims of about ₹2,48,879 crore, out of which ₹8,462 crore were admitted by the resolution professional.

As per the plan, workers and employees will get ₹113 crore against their claim of over ₹1,200 crore in 180 days, while financial creditors will get ₹1,010 crore against their claims of ₹7,454 crore in tranches in five years.

Founded in 1992 by Naresh Goyal, Jet Airways had stopped flying on April 17, 2019, as it failed to raise money to keep itself afloat and was admitted for the resolution process in June 2019.

While the bankruptcy court was hearing the revival plan, the Kalrock-Jalan consortium had sought clarification from the civil aviation ministry and DGCA about availability of slots to the company based on historicity.

India’s Covid tally tops 3cr

India has become the second country in the world after the US to record more than 3 crore Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The country’s caseload went past the sombre milestone on Tuesday, just 50 days after crossing the 2-crore mark, making it the fastest addition of 1 crore cases by any country.

The fastest rise of 1 crore cases in the US was 54 days, when the country’s Covid count rose from1 crore (November 5) to 2 crore (December 29), as per worldometers.info.

India’s caseload had touched 2 crore on May 3, when the second wave in the country was about to peak. The last 50 lakh cases were recorded in 36 days (from May 17 to June 22), indicating a distinct slowdown in the second wave. The previous 50 lakh recorded infections had come in 15 days, and the 50 lakh before that in just 14 days.

In just over three and a half months, the second wave accounts for two-third (63%) of all Covid cases recorded in India (taking March 1 as the start of this wave), with close to 1.9 crore cases so far. With 2,33,402 deaths out of a total toll of 3,90,600, 60% of all officially recognised Covid fatalities in the country have taken place during the second wave.

India’s total caseload stands at 30,027,364. The US has so far recorded 3.44 crore cases, the highest count in the world. Brazil is the only other country where cases have exceeded 1 crore.

On Tuesday, India reported 50,497 fresh cases and 1,047 deaths (not counting 294 “backlog” deaths reported by Maharashtra). On Monday, the case count had dropped below 50,000 (42,667) and the toll had dipped under 1,000 (908).

Sensex hits 53,000 intraday for first time

The sensex ended on a flat note after scaling the 53,000-mark for the first time on Tuesday as investors booked profits at higher levels. A depreciating trend in the rupee, which closed 26 paise lower at 74.37, also weighed on sentiment, traders said.

After touching an intraday peak of 53,057, the sensex settled 14 points higher at 52,589, marking its third straight session of gains. Similarly, the broader Nifty rose 26 points to close at 15,773. Markets opened strong on the back of global cues and pick-up in the pace of vaccination. 

Nearing Mount 53k, however, the sensex witnessed profit-taking across the board in afternoon trade, he noted.

SEC OKs Covaxin phase-3 data, 77.8% efficacy

A day ahead of Bharat Biotech’s pre-submission meeting with the World Health Organisation for emergency use listing for Covaxin, the subject expert committee has given its nod to the vaccine’s phase-3 efficacy trials data.

The inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech and Indian Council of Medical Research, is learnt to have shown an efficacy of 77.8% as per the data submitted to the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation. The SEC, which advises the Drugs Controller General of India, is reported to have given its approval to the efficacy data after a marathon meeting on Tuesday. This followed the submission of the efficacy trials data to the drug regulator over the weekend.

The next step would be an approval from the DCGI, following which the company would be applying for a full licensure for the vaccine, as Bharat Biotech had indicated earlier this month.


India’s Vaccination Record


India’s vaccination record till date has been middling among the world’s 30 most populous countries with a rank 16 among them in terms of doses per100 population.

At 19.6 as of June 19, India’s level is less than a fifth of what the UK has achieved but several times what several Asian and African countries have.

The rank remains16 among these 30 countries even if we were to consider the proportion of the population fully vaccinated, but in this case the gulf between the UK (45.8%) and India (3.6%) is considerably wider. What is more a matter of concern is that the countries ranking below India on this chart — all barring Ukraine from Asia or Africa — have been significantly less badly hit by the pandemic as their cases and deaths per million show.

The only countries among these 30 with lower vaccination levels that have been hit harder are Iran and Ukraine.

Conversely, among those with higher vaccination levels, almost all have seen a much higher level of cases and deaths per million than India, China, South Korea and Japan being the exceptions.

The data from ourworldindata.org tracks both the number of people given the first dose and those that have been fully vaccinated. In the case of China, this break-up is not available, but with over a billion or 100 crore doses administered in that country, at least half that number, that is almost equaling 500 million people or roughly 36% of their population, would have received their first shot of the vaccine.

Those above India on this chart are not all developed countries. From the developing world, China, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico and Columbia, all have provided a larger proportion of their populations shots.

Each of them has also fully vaccinated a bigger chunk of its population than India. Vaccination is India has been constrained by supplies but is expected to improve, particularly from August. Whether that will be in time to prevent or minimise a third wave of Covid-19 is another matter.

TN forms an economic advisory council

Within minutes after governor Banwarilal Purohit announced in his address to the state assembly about the formation of a five member economic advisory council for chief minister M K Stalin, the hashtag Tamil Nadu started trending on twitter. Accolades poured in for the state’s move to draft in Nobel laureate Esther Duflo, Prof Jean Dreze, Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian and S Narayan and the collective “bandwidth” of these economic experts.

An order constituting the advisory council said, at present the government is in the midst of a serious economic crisis induced by the Covid-19 pandemic. The fiscal situation of the government is also precarious with persistent high revenue and fiscal deficits and a large overhang of debt. The people’s expectations are high that the government would deliver on faster economic growth, social justice and equity through enhanced service delivery.

“The council comprises two macro economists and two development economists. The idea is nobody will doubt their credentials and they are among the best in the world. We want to identify specific issues and ask their advice and based on their inputs formalise what we want to do to enhance the capacity and capability of the state. It will be more action oriented, rather than report oriented and there is enough diversity of opinion there for us to get the right feedback,” a senior state government official said, while adding that the members of the council will not receive any “remuneration”.

Fundamentally it is a superb and great thought process, says S Chandrakumar, chairman, CII Tamil Nadu.

Bharti Airtel to Deploy 5G Network Solutions Developed by Tata Group

Bharti Airtel will pilot and deploy 5G network solutions locally developed by Tata Group as part of its fifth-generation mobile service rollout plans for the country.

The partnership to implement 5G solutions will allow Airtel to reduce the cost of 5G deployment as the Tata solution is based on Open RAN (radio access network), analysts said.

Open RAN as a concept enables hardware and software to be disaggregated, unlike conventional radio gears, allowing technology products from different suppliers to coexist with various software providers.

Tata Group’s Open RAN-based 5G solutions will be available for commercial development starting January 2022. Airtel’s pilot will start in the same month.

“We are delighted to join forces with the Tata Group to make India a global hub for 5G and allied technologies,”

Gopal Vittal, managing director (India and South Asia) of Bharti Airtel, said in the joint statement.

He said the partnership will provide a big boost to India becoming an innovation and manufacturing destination. “With its world-class technology ecosystem and talent pool, India is well positioned to build cutting-edge solutions and applications for the world.”

The 5G solutions, once commercially proven in Airtel’s brownfield network, will open export opportunities for India, which is now the second largest telecom market in the world, the statement said. N Ganapathy Subramaniam, chairman of Tata Elxsi and chief operating officer of Tata Consultancy Services, said, “As a group, we are excited about the opportunity presented by 5G and adjacent possibilities. We are committed to building a world-class networking equipment and solutions business to address these opportunities in networking space.”

Ashwinder Sethi, principal at management consultancy Analysys Mason, said, “Airtel’s strategic partnership with Tata could allow it to reduce its cost of 5G deployment and thus help support the business case for 5G rollout, which has been challenging for operator’s globally.”

With Open RAN architecture, companies can get hardware such as radio made from contract manufacturers. Bharti Enterprises, parent of Airtel, has already inked a pact to form a joint venture with Dixon to manufacture telecom and networking products.

Airtel’s rival Reliance Jio, meanwhile, is pursuing in-house 5G solutions through a mix of organic and inorganic approaches.

Jio said it has developed its own end-to-end telecom stack comprising radios and core technologies, which it is currently piloting in Mumbai and intends to commercially deploy once 5G spectrum is available commercially.


IAF set to deploy Rafales on eastern front

The IAF has raised the second Rafale squadron, the 101 ‘Falcons of Chhamb and Akhnoor’, in Ambala with a few fighters ahead of their formal induction at the Hasimara airbase in West Bengal for the eastern front with China.

With the first Rafale squadron, the 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ squadron, fully operational at the Ambala airbase with its full complement of 18 fighters, the 101 squadron has been resurrected with five jets that have touched down in India, IAF sources said.

The remaining 13 of the 36 twin-engine Rafales, contracted under the Rs 59,000 crore deal inked with France in September 2016, are slated to arrive in batches before April next year. The IAF is “absolutely on target” on the Rafale induction plan, Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria said on Saturday.

“The formal ceremony for the 101 Squadron, which had earlier been ‘number-plated’ with the retirement of its old MiG-21 fighters, in Hasimara has been slightly delayed due to the Covid pandemic. But it will happen within a month or so,” a source said.

While Group Captain Rohit Kataria is the commanding officer of the 17 squadron, Group Captain Neeraj Jhamb ‘Jammy’ is heading the 101 squadron, he added.

Ambala and Hasimara were selected as the ‘main operating home bases’ for the 4.5-generation Rafales, though the omni-role fighters can operate from anywhere in the country as and when required.

Hangars, shelters, maintenance facilities and infrastructure for the Rafales have come up at both the airbases. The Hasimara airbase, close to the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, was established with Toofani aircraft after the 1962 war with China.

Along with the Russian-origin Sukhoi-30MKIs already deployed at air bases like Tezpur and Chabua, the Rafales will now add a greater combat punch against China in the eastern sector.

Goa, which has 0.1% of India’s area, has 37% of its listed birds

During the last winter season, when birders set out on their annual birding expedition across Goa, they were delighted to have spotted four new species in the state. This has taken the number of listed birds found in Goa to 481, which is almost 37% of the tally of birds listed across India, though it is the smallest state in terms of geographical area.

Malabar starling, chestnut winged cuckoo, great bittern and white browed fantail are the newest bird presence recorded in the state.

The Malabar starling is generally found in southwest India, while chestnut winged cuckoo in South-East Asia. The presence of great bittern or Eurasian bittern is a sub-family of the heron, whereas white browed fantail breeds across tropical regions of Indian sub-continent and South-East Asia. But these birds have been spotted and added to the list of recorded birds found in Goa for the first time.

“With the addition of four species of birds, the richness of Goa’s landscape in supporting avifauna has been highlighted,” Aranya Environment and Research Organisation president Harshada Gawas said.

The recorded bird numbers in Goa stood at 477 at last count, with the last two additions being of the migratory greater flamingo and lesser flamingo.

Goa’s recorded bird species roughly constitute 5% of the total 10,000-odd bird species listed globally.

Goa has around 481 of 1,300 bird species recorded in India

Compare the geographically tiny state’s 481 to the 525 bird species listed in the vast state of Karnataka. This has helped make Goa a popular destination with birdwatchers from India and abroad.

Peru has the largest number of birds listed for any country in the world with its count standing at 2,000, while the recorded bird species in India are between 1,200 and 1,300, of which Goa has nearly 481. “Goa is blessed with a wide variety of habitats and this has made Goa a bird watcher’s paradise. The habitats are very easily accessible and one can travel from the coast to the dense forests within a matter of hours. One is able to sight many of the Western Ghats endemics quite easily here,” Goa Bird Conservation Network’s Omkar Dharwadkar said.

Goa offers a diverse habitat within a small area — the coast, the mid-elevation plateaus and the Western Ghats, which as one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the world, comparable to the habitats of the Amazon, Congo and Borneo.

The Western Ghats, the coastal plains and mid highlands with creeks, islands, estuaries, rocky headlands, grasslands, marshy land, paddy fields and the hilly forest cover has been offering refuge to varied species of bird, while also attracting many migratory species, largely from eastern Europe, who come here to escape the harsh winter.

The first comprehensive checklist of birds of Goa was meticulously prepared by Heinz Lainer, listing 382 species of birds in 1999. As per the current checklist of birds of Goa, there are 481 species in which 120 are rare, 3 are critically endangered and 13 are vulnerable. The Western Ghats that has four wildlife sanctuaries and one national park is home to 16 species of endemic birds.

In 2018, based on robust rules for verification of all records from Goa, 473 species were published in Indian Birds, authored by Pronoy Baidya and Mandar Bhagat. On November 13, 2020, with the new additions the total species count reached 477.


Pune: Big effort to turn 11 acres of barren land into mini forest

Citizens have taken up the task of turning an 11-acre barren land near Mohammadwadi into a mini forest.

The initiative by Anandvan Mitra Mandal, headed by Praveen Kumar, is already under way with volunteers contributing towards constructing trenches, ponds and planting various trees in the area.

The area, covering a tekdi, belongs to the forest department, which has partnered with the non-governmental organisation for this green initiative. The forest department has built boundary walls and an entrance gate near Nine Hills Society and Elina Living Society, Mohammedwadi, to restrict entry of vehicles and trespassers.

“We plan to turn this barren tekdi into a forest like Anandvan in the NIBM Road area. This project was inaugurated on Environment Day (June 5). We have already built a pond with the capacity to hold 50,000 litres of water and divided the entire area into different zones to encourage biodiversity. Volunteers have planted trees such as neem, peepal and tamarind that are beneficial for avian life,” said Kumar.

Over 110 volunteers have worked on this project, including residents of the area, student groups and young professionals interested in nature work. Citizens from locations such as Uruli Kanchan and Nanded City have also pitched in. The volunteers work to revitalise the tekdi every day from 6.30-11am. All necessary materials and equipment are donated by citizens.

“We want to install a drip irrigation facility. Four months ago, we proposed that a pipeline be laid from Bhairoba Nullah to provide waste water to the tekdi. It will help us convert 2-3 lakh litre waste water into grey water for plantation on a daily basis, while also reducing the flooding problem in that area. It will take a lot of water to turn the barren land into a forest as the soil has hardened. We are also dumping good quality soil for the plantations to flourish,” said a volunteer.

Housing societies in the area are donating four tankers of water on a daily basis for this work. “We are getting together and leaning how to take care of the environment so that we can make the city greener and its air cleaner. Turning barren land into a mini forest will help improve air quality, which in turn will have positive effects on public health. All participants wear masks and maintain social distancing protocols,” said a volunteer.

Anyone who wants to volunteer can reach out to the NGO through their Facebook page and come over to the tekdi to help out.

“There is enough work for everyone, and we invite everyone to help out in whatever way they can. We are also looking for donations in the form of water, soil, coconut pits and most importantly, plants. It will take a few weeks for the project to be completed, though maintaining the greenery will be a continuous task, ” said Kumar.

Rahul Patil, deputy conservator of forests (Pune division), said, “This is a great project for citizens to come together and participate in. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and the forest department is also involved in this eco-friendly initiative. We urge all citizens to come forward and participate in such initiatives in their areas. Similar projects are being planned for other barren plots in and around the city.”


Milkha takes his final lap

A couple of days after testing negative for Covid-19 and shifting out of the Covid-ICU, four-time Asian Games gold medallist Milkha Singh passed away due to post-Covid complications at Chandigarh’s Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research on Friday. He was 91. “Dad just passed away,” his son and legendary golfer Jeev Milkha Singh confirmed.

Milkha’s 85-year-old wife Nirmal Kaur had succumbed to Covid-related complications on Sunday.

Condoling his demise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “In the passing away of Shri Milkha Singh Ji, we have lost a colossal sports-person, who captured the nation’s imagination and had a special place in the hearts of countless Indians. His inspiring personality endeared himself to millions.”

Condoling the death, Home Minster Amit Shah said the country lost one of the brightest stars of Indian sports. “India mourns the sad demise of legendary sprinter Shri Milk-ha Singh Ji, He has left an indelible mark on world athletics. Nation will always remember him as one of the brightest stars of Indian sports.”

The Athletics Federation of India also condoled his death in a tweet, “Very very sad news for all #Indians, legend Shri Milk-ha Singh Ji passed away just a while back.”

The legendary athlete’s greatest performance remains the fourth-place finish in the 400m final of the 1960 Rome Olympics. He also represented India in the 1956 and 1964 Olympics.

Singh, who was born in Gobindpura, now in present-day Pakistan, on November 30, 1928 as per school records, had become the first Indian athlete to win gold in the then British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in 1958, a record which stood for more than 50 years when Krishna Poonia won the gold in discus throw event in 2010 CWG at Delhi. Singh had emerged as the winner in the 400m final in Cardiff edging out Malcolm Spence of South Africa with a timing of 46.6 seconds.

Singh had also won four Asian Games gold medals, including the 200m and 400m wins in the 1956 Asian Games and 400m and 4X400m relay in 1962 Asian Games.

The nonagenarian was yet to get jabbed for Covid-19, and on testing positive on May19, he had told this correspondent over telephone, “It’s just a matter of time, I will be back soon, and get myself vaccinated.”

But destiny had something else written for him.

Madhya Pradesh: Tiger cub dies in hit-&-run

A tiger cub was run over and killed on NH43 in Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh on Friday morning.

The female cub was aged around 12 months, say officials. Locals found the carcass around 5am near a hotel, about 14km from Shahdol town. They are trying to identify the vehicle. The site is 6km from Ghunghuti forest range. The cub had abdominal injuries and bled to death, said forest officers. The carcass was taken for autopsy and will be cremated as per NTCA protocol. This is the second such incident in a short span. Two tigers were run over by a train earlier.


Forex Pile at a Record

India’s foreign exchange reserves, which recently crossed the $600-billion mark for the first time, maybe deceptive as it will be adequate to finance less than 15 months’ actual imports in FY22 against 20 months’ at current levels, a Reserve Bank of India research paper has said.

“In terms of projected imports for 2021-22, the current level of reserves provides cover for less than 15 months, which is lower than for other major reserve holders,” warns the paper authored by RBI deputy governor Michael Patra and his team of economists published in the central bank’s latest monthly bulletin.

The import cover — the number of months’ imports that the reserves can finance — at current levels of imports and reserves is estimated at 19.6 months.

The RBI amassed $100 billion in just about 12 months despite the pandemic-induced lockdown disrupting economic activity globally. This is the fastest pileup in reserves since the global financial crisis.

The reserves are at a record $605 billion as of June 4, the latest official data indicates, and India is now the fifth-largest holder of forex reserves. Even at these levels, the reserves’ cushion may not be a very comfortable one.

Other major foreign exchange reserve holders have higher import cover, led by Switzerland with 39 months’ cover, followed by Japan (22 months), Russia (20 months), and China (16 months), the RBI paper said.

A surge in imports is factored as prices of crude, which accounts for a fifth of India's import bill, and other commodities are rising. India’s merchandise imports grew by more than 50% in May 2021 due to a low base a year ago.

“As compared to the lockdown a year ago, the recent restrictions have had a limited impact on import demand,” the paper said.

Besides meeting importers’ demand, forex reserves would be also needed for servicing external debt. “While foreign exchange reserves provide cushions against unforeseen external shocks, levels are often deceptive, and a better gauge of external vulnerability is an assessment of specific indicators,” the paper said.

In terms of external vulnerability indicators, as of December 2020, reserves were 104% of the total external debt of $536 billion, short-term debt in terms of residual maturity of up to less than a year are about 43% and external debt to GDP is at 21%.

All these indicators do not cause alarm on the face of it. But the catch is that India’s external liabilities far exceed its external assets.

“India’s reserves coexist with a net international investment position of (-)12.9% of GDP. These factors warrant a pragmatic assessment of reserve adequacy on FX reserves, including exposure to valuation changes and market risk in a world of heightened global uncertainty,” the paper said.

PUC to have common format across India

The Central government has issued a notification for a common format of the Pollution Under Control  Certificate to be issued across the country. Ministry of Road Transport and Highways issued the notification on Monday under Central Motor Vehicle Rules 1989.

Under the new format, the ministry has introduced uniform PUC format across the country by linking the PUC database with the National Register. The concept of rejection slip is being introduced for the first time under the new format.

“A common format of rejection slip is to be given to the vehicle owner in case the test result value is more than the maximum permissible value, as mandated in the concerned emission norms. This document can be shown at the service centre for getting the vehicle serviced or can be used, in case the PUC centre device is not working properly when tested at another centre,” said the notification. There will be confidentiality of personal information. 


2nd wave may leave ₹2L cr dent on eco output: RBI

The Reserve Bank of India has estimated that the second wave may result in a Rs 2-lakh-crore loss in output during the current fiscal, in what is the first such exercise conducted by the central bank or the government.

A loss of economic output may not have a direct correlation with the GDP, but points to some loss in the value-addition across the economy. Already, several agencies, including the RBI, have lowered growth projections for the year.

The RBI’s output loss is factored into its revised GDP forecast in the latest monetary policy estimates, where it slashed growth projections from 10.5% to 9.5%. The state of the economy report released on Wednesday said the projection was on the assumption that real GDP will grow by 18.5% in the first quarter, which is on a much lower base given the contraction last year.

Providing more details on the economic impact of the second wave, the RBI said the rate of decline in deposits has been higher, indicating that household savings have dropped in sharp contrast to the first wave. “Additionally, currency holding with the public has also decelerated significantly to 1.7% during April 2021 in comparison to the growth of 3.5% a year ago, implying heavy outgo towards Covid-induced medical expenditure.”

It said the second wave’s toll is higher due to the impact on domestic demand as several aspects of aggregate supply, such as agriculture and contactless services, are holding, while industrial production and exports have surged amid pandemic protocols. “Going forward, the speed and scale of vaccination will shape the path of recovery,” the report said.

As for life beyond the pandemic, the report highlights the advantages of repurposing and reprioritising revenue and expenditures to extract “bang for the buck”. The report said that the public sector can lead the private sector in unlocking growth opportunities. In addition, it can partner the private sector, and step back to allow the private sector to take the lead in sunrise areas.

“While Covid has tested the limits of flexibility in fiscal policy frameworks in India as in the rest of the world, it has offered a unique opportunity to redefine fiscal policy in a manner that emphasises ‘how’ over ‘how much,” the report said.

The report, authored by RBI deputy governor M D Patra highlights the finance ministry estimates that to achieve herd immunity and regain recovery momentum, the target population to be vaccinated is 70 crore by September 2021 and around 113 crore more doses are needed. Accordingly, around 93 lakh vaccinations are required per day to achieve the herd immunity.


Tuticorin airport gets environmental nod

The Union ministry has granted environmental clearance for the ₹381 crore expansion of Tuticorin airport. The project includes, extension of runway with blast pad, runway safety area, taxiway, apron, ground support equipment area, isolation bay and a new domestic terminal building.

The expert appraisal committee of the ministry in its meeting on May 27-28 through video conferencing recommended granting environmental clearance to the project subject to certain conditions.

“A detailed traffic management and traffic decongestion plan should be drawn up to ensure that the current level of service of the roads within five km radius of the project is maintained and improved upon after the implementation of the project,” the committee said. The construction of a centralised airconditioned domestic terminal building in an area of 10,800sqm shall handle 600 passengers during peak hours with all modern facilities and amenities. There used to be six flights a day in pre-Covid days. The existing airport has 76.31ha of land, the state government has handed over 243.2ha of additional land free from all encumbrances for the proposed development. “On completion of the expansion, the runway will be 3,115m long and 45m wide, this will be sufficient to handle A 321 type aircraft. The new terminal building will be completed in 24 months from commencement of work.” The runway expansion work will commence on obtaining the environmental clearance and from the directorate general of civil aviation, he said.

CII Tuticorin chairman Michael Motha hoped that expansion would help get direct connectivity to Chennai, Bengaluru, Cochin, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi. The airport director said work will be completed by September 30.

May 2021: Trade Deficit at 8-Month Low

Merchandise exports in May increased by 69.35% from a year ago to $32.27 billion, driven by growth in the engineering, petroleum, and gems and jewellery sectors.

Trade deficit in goods stood at $6.28 billion, the lowest in eight months. Trade deficit was $15.10 billion in April and $3.15 billion in May, 2020. Imports in May were up 73.64% year-on-year to $38.55 billion.

Exports to the US, UAE and Singapore recorded the highest jumps. Exports of engineering, petroleum products and gems and jewellery in May were worth $8.64 billion, $5.33 billion and $2.96 billion, respectively.

Engineering Export Promotion Council said that while the export outlook has been projected to be positive in the current fiscal, there were downside risks too, given that public health experts have predicted a possible third wave of Covid-19 and sought targeted policy intervention.

Gold imports in May increased by 790% from a year ago to $679 million, data showed. Oil imports grew 171% to $9.45 billion compared with $3.49 billion in May 2020.

Non-oil and non-gold imports in May increased by 52.48% year-on-year. Taken together with services, India registered an overall trade surplus of $1.6 billion in May. Exports during April-May this year jumped to $62.89 billion, as against $29.41 billion in the same period last year.

Nayar said the steady exports over April-May 2021, despite the second surge in Covid-19 infections and associated lockdowns, are heartening, suggesting that India may be well poised to benefit from recovering demand in the advanced economies.

Desai said growth in outbound shipments has been robust over the last few months and the outlook remains positive for the current year, but rising cost of key raw materials, especially steel, is a concern.


May 2021: CPI Soars to 6-Month High

Retail inflation hardened to a six-month high in May, joining the rising trend in wholesale inflation that also strengthened to a record, but experts said the Reserve Bank of India may tolerate these levels for a while given concerns over growth.

Retail inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, accelerated to 6.3% in May from 4.23% in April, breaching the upper band of the RBI’s 2-6% range for the first time in six months, data from the statistics office showed.

The wholesale price index, released separately by the commerce department, showed inflation at 12.94% in May, the highest in the current series with 2011-12 as the base, magnified by the year-earlier low base. WPI inflation was -3.37% in May 2020 and 10.49% in April 2021.

Rising wholesale inflation, increasingly reflected in retail inflation as well, is going to make things difficult for the RBI, said Sunil Kumar Sinha, principal economist, India Ratings. “However, given the growth inflation dynamics, Ind-Ra believes RBI will not be in a hurry to tinker with either the policy rate or its accommodative policy stance,” he said.

In its monetary policy review earlier this month, the central bank had held rates and reaffirmed its accommodative policy as it pared the growth forecast for FY22 by a percentage point to 9.5%.

Most economists now expect the economy to grow at high single digits in FY22 against double-digit estimates at the beginning of the fiscal because of the severe second wave of the pandemic.

Biden backs Quad, Nato

Revealing that Beijing tried to dissuade Washington from forming the Quad with India, Japan and Australia, US President Joe Biden outlined a two-front response to China and Russia, shoring up both Pacific and Atlantic partnerships during his Europe trip. The intent to restore multilateral US primacy in the face of challenges from China and Russia was expressed in statements that bluntly named the countries and the US response to what Washington sees as their not playing by global rules.

In course of a press conference at the end of the G7 summit in the UK, President Biden revealed that a Chinese leader, when told that he (Biden) when elected president was going to “reestablish the strength of American relationships so we can be counted on again... suggested ‘Well, maybe you shouldn’t get the Quad… — meaning India, Japan, Australia, and the US — and maybe you shouldn’t be pushing on strengthening the EU’.”

But that is precisely what Biden has sought to accomplish during his maiden presidential visit across the pond — strengthening Pacific and Atlantic partnerships to contain China and Russia in a pincer, even though they present different challenges. “I conveyed to each of my G7 counterparts that... America is back at the table. The lack of participation in the past and full engagement was noticed significantly, not only by the leaders of those countries but also by the people in the G7 countries,” Biden said in an oblique swipe at his predecessor Donald Trump at a press meet at the conclusion of G7, adding, “America is back in the business of leading the world alongside nations who share our most deeply held values....”

Elaborating on unprecedented multiple references to China in the G7 communique, Biden, having launched a counter to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative with the so-called B3W (“Build Back Better World”) Partnership, said the US is not looking for a conflict with China but will respond to actions that are inconsistent with international norms. “I know this is going to sound somewhat prosaic, but I think we’re in a contest — not with China per se, but a contest with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in the rapidly changing 21st century. And I think how we act and whether we pull together as democracies is going to determine whether our grandkids look back 15 years from now and say, ‘Did they step up? Are democracies as relevant and as powerful as they have been?’” Biden said.

On the Atlantic front, Biden told Nato leaders on Monday that the defence of Europe, Turkey and Canada was a “sacred obligation” for the US, a marked shift from Trump’s diminution of the alliance. In a clear sign of a new two-front cold war that pits Moscow and Beijing as twin threats, Biden spoke of them in same breath, saying, “there is a growing recognition over the last couple years that we have new challenges. We have Russia, which is acting in a way that is not consistent with what we had hoped, and we have China.”


50 modular hospitals to come up across India in 3 months

Gearing up to face any new surge in Covid cases or a third wave, the Centre has planned to quickly ramp up state health infrastructure by setting up 50 innovative modular hospitals across the country in the next two-three months.

Modular hospitals will be built adjacent to an existing hospital building as an extension of operational infrastructure. A 100-bedded modular hospital with a dedicated zone of Intensive Care Units can be set up at an estimated cost of nearly Rs 3 crore in three weeks and made fully operational in 6-7 weeks.

The project, initiated by the office of principal scientific adviser K Vijay Raghavan, will initially be implemented in state-run and philanthropic hospitals. These rapidly deployable hospitals are intended to plug a major health infrastructure gap in India’s fight against Covid, especially in rural areas and smaller towns.

“Any government hospital, having basic facilities such as electricity and water supply, and oxygen pipeline, will be eligible to have a modular hospital attached to it,” Aaditi Lele, member of the industry-academia collaboration division in the principal scientific adviser’s office said. “We have been in touch with state governments to identify the requirement, specifically in states where a higher number of cases are reported. We have also reached out to multiple partners to execute projects through corporate social responsibility support.”

The first batch of 100-bed modular hospitals will be commissioned in Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh); Amravati, Pune and Jalna (Maharashtra) and Mohali (Punjab), along with a 20-bed hospital in Raipur (Chhattisgarh). Bengaluru will have one each of 20, 50, and 100 beds in the first phase.

These hospitals can last around 25 years. They can also be dismantled and moved anywhere in less than a week. The design and concept — called MediCAB Hospitals — is by Modulus Housing, a start-up incubated in IIT Madras. The company has started deploying MediCAB extension hospitals with the help of the American Indian Foundation.

The government has also collaborated with Tata Projects Ltd to deploy modular hospitals at multiple sites in Punjab and Chhattisgarh.

Price Index for Services on the Cards

India will start measuring the price movements in services, such as in banking where a fee or commission is charged, brokerage and wireless telephony to better gauge inflation in the services sector.

The government is working on a Business Service Price Index on the lines of the services producer price index in the US and the European Union, to reflect the price movements of services. This would eventually be merged with the wholesale price index.

In the first phase, the government plans to have separate indices for banking, insurance, securities, telecom, air transport and railways.

“The BSPI could be disseminated separately initially and it will be merged with the WPI once it stabilises. It will add to the robustness of the WPI,” said an official in the know of the plan.

In the second phase, trade and road freight services, hotel (short-term accommodation), storage (warehouse), publishing & broadcasting services (advertisement), information and computer-related services and professional, scientific & technical services are likely to be added to the BSPI.

The official said a combined BSPI might also be explored based on the price indices of these services and their weights as per their value of output in the national accounts statistics.

The government’s move “will widen the data on price movements given the predominance of services in the economic structure of India”, said Aditi Nayar, chief economist, ICRA.

The banking service price index would include direct services for which banks charge a fee or commission, and intermediation services including ‘deposits’ and ‘loans and advances’.

The telecom index would be based on data collected from companies on mobile services, the fastest growing area within the sector.

The basket of port services would contain bulk handling and storage, container handling and storage and breakbulk and storage, as well as vessel-related services like port and docks, pilotage and towage and berth hire. All service price indices would be compiled with 2017-18 as the base year and on a quarterly basis, except for the banking sector which would be monthly as well as quarterly.

The possibility of using this as a deflator in national accounts in place of proxy-deflators is also being considered, the official said.

Premature easing of curbs key to 2nd wave in India: WHO

The World Health Organization has, at the G7 summit in the UK, blamed the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India on the “premature” opening up of the society and relaxation of public health measures, as well as the emergence of new variants and unequal vaccine distribution.

Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies programme, said, “The cause or evolution of this wave in India has been driven by a number of factors including the opening up of society, wedding season, religious ceremonies, a general increase in mobility and mixing of populations, and the emergence of the Delta strain, which is more transmissible and has more kinetic energy and is able to exploit opportunities in transmission. In effect, we have given the virus more opportunity and the virus has more capacity...”

Ryan said the India’s pandemic impact continues to be “very severe”. “It may have left the global airwaves, but the people of India are still suffering greatly as the disease moves through more rural areas. We commend the health workers and the health system for all they are doing to save lives with an extreme lack of equipment and supplies,” he added.

Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of Covid response at WHO, blamed India’s second wave on four variants of concern across the globe: Alpha variant, first identified in the UK; Beta variant, first identified in South Africa; P1 variant, first identified in Brazil; and Delta variant,first identified in India.

“In addition, we have seen dramatic rise in social mixing. When you have increases in social mixing, even if it is small gatherings, you provide the virus opportunity to spread. The third reason is relaxation of public health and social measures,” she said.

“These are scientifically proven measures that can reduce infections and reduce transmission. The last is the uneven and inequitable vaccine distribution around the world. We need vaccines to reach those who are most vulnerable.” Maria said all these factors created “a dangerous combination.” Her message was “to stay very vigilant and put everything we can at reducing transmission”.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “The best approach in India is to not let your guard down and follow the comprehensive approach — strong public health with vaccination — but we are glad to see a downward trend of deaths and cases in the last three to four weeks.”

He added the first phase of the WHO study into the origins of the virus was “not conclusive” and that the Wuhan lab leaks theory remained an open hypothesis on the table. “The origins study is something that WHO takes seriously. We need cooperation from the Chinese side and we need transparency in order to find the origins of this virus,” he said, adding WHO is preparing the second phase of the study.

India an ally of open societies: PM Modi

Describing India as a natural ally of G7, PM Modi said democracy and freedom were part of India’s civilisational ethos. Sharing concerns that open societies were vulnerable to disinformation and cyber attacks, he underlined the need to ensure that cyber space remains an avenue for advancing democratic values, not subverting it.

Invited as lead speaker in a session on ‘Open Societies’, his references to cyber space can be read in the context of disinformation, data theft and cyber attacks being a part of tactics employed by state actors. The leaders adopted the ‘Open Societies Statement’ hailing freedom of expression—both online and offline—as a freedom that safeguards democracy and helps people live free from fear and oppression. 

The leaders adopted the ‘Open Societies Statement’ that hailed, among other things, freedom of expression, both online and offline.

“The PM highlighted India’s civilisational commitment to democracy, freedom of thought and liberty. As the world’s largest democracy, India is a natural ally for the G7 and guest nations in defending these shared values from a host of threats stemming from authoritarianism, terrorism and violent extremism, disinformation and infodemics and economic coercion,” MEA’s additional secretary P Harish said.

Indian officials also said the G7 leaders underlined their commitment to a free, open and a rules-based Indo-Pacific and resolved to collaborate with partners. Highlighting the nondemocratic nature of global institutions, Modi called for reform of the multilateral system as the best signal of commitment to the cause of open societies.


Forex Reserves Top $600 bn

The country’s forex reserves crossed the $600-billion mark for the first time on the back of continued foreign investment flow into the capital markets. According to the RBI, forex reserves increased by $6.8 billion in the week ended June 4 to $605 billion.

The current level of forex reserves are enough to cover nearly 16 months of imports. According to RBI governor Shaktikanta Das, the central bank has enough ammunition to meet the challenges arising out of “global spillovers” a reference to any sudden policy changes in the US or geopolitical shifts that could lead to funds exiting India.

India is now less than $200 million behind Russia, which has an almost identical level of reserves. The pileup of foreign exchange reserves is an outcome of the RBI’s strategy of buying dollars when there is a sudden spurt of inflows which causes volatility in the forex markets. In FY20, the RBI added over $100 billion to the reserves. It has also sold dollars when the rupee came under pressure. In February and March, the central bank had depleted its stockpile by almost $10 billion by selling dollars.

Foreign fund buying of shares and debt in India also added to the reserves. According to the data from CDSL, in FY21, net inflows of about $37 billion came in through these routes and while another $400 million net flows were added to it.

According to a report by Brickworks Ratings, the exchange rate volatility demands more forex interventions by the RBI. Hence, the accumulation of forex reserves helps the RBI to maintain the exchange rate at a comfortable level. The report points out that doubts over India’s economic recovery led to significant capital outflows in April and May. The RBI’s purchase of dollars also has a corollary impact on rupee liquidity. Every $1 billion that the RBI purchases results in around Rs 7,300 crore of rupee funds being released.

India Records Coolest Summer in 44 Years

India's summer season, which often results in unbearably hot days along the northern plains, saw just one instance of a significant heatwave across the country this year. This rare instance resulted in the coolest summer in the past 44 years, and fourth-coolest summer in recorded history.

Rainfall in May at 107.9 mm was also the second-highest since 1901, when the weather office started recording official data.

The average maximum temperature of 34.18C during this past summer season was 0.99C cooler than normal. It was the coolest summer since 1977, which saw an anomaly of 33.84C. The coolest summer since 1901 occurred in 1917, when average maximum temperature was 32.68C.

“Like in March and April 2021, heatwave conditions in May 2021 were occasional and also for shorter periods over very small region,” the India Meteorological Department said. The National Capital Delhi reported a max temperature of less than 40 degree Celsius in most of the dates of May 2021,” it added.

As per the IMD, the two cyclones on either coast (Tauktae and Yaas) formed during the second half of May were powerful enough to influence the northern parts of the country, bringing rainfall and cooler winds to states such as Rajasthan, UP, Delhi-NCR, Bihar and Jharkhand, which are susceptible to heatwaves.

Crypto racket busted; notice to WazirX

The Enforcement Directorate on Friday said it had unearthed a big money laundering racket involving Chinese nationals who used cryptocurrency exchanges in India to launder huge funds out of the country. The agency issued a showcause notice to WazirX, one of India’s biggest crypto exchanges, for transactions worth Rs 2,800 crore.

In a statement, the ED said its probe found that WazirX helped Chinese owned illegal online betting applications launder money from India by converting deposits in Indian currency to cryptocurrency tether. 

Master Plan 2041 To Take Delhi On Digital Highway

Universal broadband access to every home in Delhi and connectivity at speeds of up to 1 Gbps to all its citizens through Wi-Fi hotspots through a network of ‘smart poles’ across the city, infrastructure for 5G network, data centres — the draft Master Plan for Delhi 2041 has prepared a digital roadmap for the city.

The draft MPD41 notes that digital infrastructure and services are emerging as key enablers to Delhi’s growth, with the internet driving the app-based economy and services. In 2019, Delhi had over 5.7 crore phone connections, of which 5.4 crore were wireless connections, apart from 3.2 crore internet subscribers.

The draft plan states that Delhi needs to align its telecommunication infrastructure and targets to the National Digital Communication Policy of 2018 and the Telegram Right of Way Rules, 2016. It, accordingly, proposes strategies for a digitally enabled and connected city.

MPD41 notes that Delhi requires adequate infrastructure provisions to support higher service levels like 5G and above, full city fibre coverage and integration of the city’s digital systems with IoT, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and Big Data, among others.

The document suggests that ‘smart poles’ may be installed in public areas, which apart from acting as Wi-Fi hotspots, would also have CCTV cameras, air pollution monitoring sensors, telecom antenna, solar lighting, public address and messaging systems and emergency call boxes. This network of smart poles across the city will be connected to the digital systems of civic agencies.

As per the 'perspective plan for infrastructure service for Delhi 2041' of Delhi government, which forms an annexure to MPD41, at present a rental model to provide free Wi-Fi to Delhiites has been adopted. As part of this scheme, around 4,000 bus stops will be covered with a per user data limit of 15 GB.

By 2041, Delhi government can plan to cover the entire city with Wi-Fi, including access in all public vehicles and public places like schools, colleges, hospitals, etc., with the bandwidth at Wi-Fi hotspots of up to 1 Gbps per user. The government considers smart poles as the way forward to accelerate the growth.

The draft MPD recommends that data centres may be set up to meet the need for data storage and server management and digitally unified command and control centres may be set up by the local bodies as key drivers for effective urban management, especially traffic, safety, disaster response, etc.

The document also states that connectivity through fibre-optics is considered to be more efficient in terms of internet speed and reliability of services and ‘Fibre First Initiative’ of NDCP and regulations of ROW policy will facilitate augmentation of telecom infrastructure.

The state government also plans to establish Delhi as a hub for cloud computing, data communication systems, services and content hosting and delivery, apart from establishing centres of excellence including in spectrum management, telecom security and next generation access technologies.


Telangana ups share in India’s GDP to 5%

Hit by Covid woes, Telangana’s gross state domestic product dipped 1.29% (at constant price of 2011-12) to Rs 9.78 lakh crore during 2020-21. However, the share of Telangana in the national GDP increased by 26 basis points to 5% in 2020-21 as against 4.74% in 2019-20.

“The growth rate fell 1.26% at constant prices (2011-12) due to Covid pandemic but is significantly better than India’s projected GDP contraction at 8%,” said Telangana IT and industries minister KT Rama Rao while launching the industries and commerce department’s annual report on Thursday.

He said that in 2020-21, Telangana’s economy benefited from agriculture and allied sectors, which grew by 21% as compared to 3% growth at the national level.

The industrial sector growth, including the mining sector, contracted by 5.6% in the state as against 8.2% contraction at national level and the services sector too contracted nearly 5% in 2020-21 as compared to a national contraction of 8.1%, the report said.

“Due to its high growth rate, the agriculture and allied sectors contributed a higher share of 20.6% to overall GSDP than in any year since the state's formation. However, at an aggregate level, the services sector continues to contribute the highest share at 60.3%. The contribution of the industrial sector stood at 19.1%,” the report added.

KTR said that small and medium enterprises have been adversely impacted due to Covid-19 and urged the Centre to step up its efforts to help SMEs tide over the crisis.

“They had announced last year that there would be a Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package. We request the Centre to work with the states because SMEs are the most important piece when it comes to rapid industrialisation and providing employment,” he said.

Tatas Pick up Majority in 1mg

Tata Digital, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Tata Group, on Thursday said it is acquiring a majority stake in epharmacy 1mg, the group’s second large acquisition in the ecommerce space after e-grocer BigBasket, and one that will put it in direct competition with the RIL-owned Netmeds.

Sources close to the development said the total deal size is in the range of $220-240 million, and includes a mix of primary and secondary investment from the Tatas as well as some existing investors. The Tatas are said to be getting around 51-60% stake in the Gurgaon-based company.

The 1mg acquisition is the latest move by the salt-to-steel conglomerate to bulk up its digital portfolio, and build its super app play. 

With Netmeds owned by RIL and now 1mg by the Tatas, PharmEasy — which acquired smaller rival Medlife last year — is the only big standalone player left in the e-pharmacy segment, which was estimated to be $360 million in size last year, as per EY India. 

The e-pharma sector has been a beneficiary of increased adoption of digital commerce during the pandemic. Industry reports estimate that about six million new households have tried online purchase of medicines in the past year, taking the total user base to about nine million. The second wave of the pandemic is expected to further increase this user base. The size of the sector is estimated to swell up to $2.7 billion by 2023.


Mumbai :Heavy Monsoon Rains Lash City

Torrential rains thrashed Mumbai on Wednesday, slowing down the Island City to a crawl as the monsoon season arrived two days before its normal date.

Local train services were cancelled prior to 9 am, while BEST buses were diverted throughout the day due to waterlogging in low lying parts of the city.

Between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm, the met department’s two official observatories at Colaba and Santacruz recorded 45.6 mm and 220.6 mm rains, respectively. Santacruz’s 9-hour downpour was equivalent to 40% of June’s normal rain, which stands at 493.1 mm.

Chembur received the most rain across the city, recording 328.38 mm in 24 hours. Dadar saw 173.5 mm, Bandra 163.58 mm, and Andheri 228.82 mm. Thane (162 mm) and Navi Mumbai (320.8 mm) also saw a deluge.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and BMC commissioner Iqbal Chahal took stock of the situation at the municipal corporation’s disaster management control room.

For the next four days, the India Meteorological Department has issued an orange alert for Mumbai, Thane and Palghar, which signals authorities to be ready in case of any disaster. It has forecasted that heavy rain will continue till the weekend, after which it is expected to subside.

Delhi: DDA plans 24-hour city with nightlife & housing revamp

From sedate plotted colonies to slick studio apartments and traditional trading hubs to co-working spaces and gig economies, the Delhi Development Authority has envisioned a “future-ready” capital that would be a “24-hour city” with an active nightlife and in the same league as other global megacities.

Economy, environment and affordable housing are the main focus areas of Draft Master Plan for Delhi-2041, which has been put in the public domain by DDA for inviting objections and suggestions from the public for 45 days. The vision for MPD-2041 is to “Foster a Sustainable, Liveable and Vibrant Delhi by 2041”.

In a paradigm shift, the draft MPD-2041 envisages the private sector leading the housing supply scenario through development and redevelopment in the next 20 years. DDA would play the role of a “facilitator”, ensuring ease of doing business while maintaining a regulatory environment.

And, finally, Delhi is poised to get a vibrant nightlife. Streets with a high concentration of heritage areas and central business districts will be prioritised for setting up nightlife circuits. Hotels, restaurants and entertainment destinations in these circuits will have extended timings and special Metro connectivity and bus services. With 24-hour special activities, these areas will be safe and secure. Meanwhile, other public space hubs will be created around the city at the waterfront, forest lands, parks, transit hotspots and other popular public spaces.

In another major change in policy, MPD-2041 plans to address the housing needs of students, single working men and women, migrants, etc through affordable housing in the shape of rental and small-format housing like studio apartments, serviced apartments, hostels and dormitories.

While the central parts of the city will witness densification through transit oriented development and urban regeneration, there would be large-scale development of sectors in the greenfield areas of the city using the land pooling policy, which DDA believes has the potential to develop 17-20 lakh dwelling units. The peripheral areas of the city will witness development of low-density and low-FAR residential areas within a "Green Development Area".

A large number of residential areas developed in the 1940s-1970s are likely to see regeneration with a nuanced strategy, according to the requirements of each locality. This urban regeneration is expected to see improvement of the existing stock and creation of new units through densification. As the permissible residential FAR has doubled since the first MPD in 1962, this regeneration would see more densification through the reconstruction of plots.

According to the vision document, though Delhi is a logistics and trade hub, it hasn’t fully realised its niche role and potential as an economic hub. The MPD-2041 focuses on sectors like specialty health, tourism and higher education, apart from promoting cleaner production, startups, innovation and cyber economies by providing a variety of flexible and shared spaces to entrepreneurs in addition to opportunities and good working conditions. A more pragmatic land use for existing industrial areas is planned with a thrust on the service sector, IT, tourism and hospitality.

Delhi is a cultural capital too and has a large number of heritage assets, which the draft MPD-2041 looks at for preservation and "adaptive reuse" for preventing degradation and loss of historical assets and fabric.

While promoting development, the document also puts an equal emphasis on tackling the city’s consistently high levels of air, water and noise pollution, which are threatening not only the environmental assets and local biodiversity but also the health of citizens, the draft states.

The green and blue infrastructure — Delhi’s green belts and waterbodies — will play a key role in shaping its future, the draft Master Plan for Delhi 2041 envisages, focusing not only on their protection but also on increasing their net area.

The draft plan states these assets will help in mitigating climate change and play a key role in reducing air, noise, water and soil pollution. A database will be maintained by the government and Delhi Development Authorty to periodically assess their “health”.

To bring people closer to these natural assets, MPD 41 aims to provide public access to a few by developing them as recreational sites consisting of “interactive” zones where temporary activities such as yoga, nature classes, environmental research, picnics, camping and biodiversity tours will be permitted. Buildings will face these green-blue assets and maintain active faces in the form of balconies, windows and pedestrian entries.

Cycleways and walkways in and around these sites have also been encouraged. For the Yamuna, a 300-metre-wide green buffer will be required along the edge, with a 30-metre area left for grasses and ground cover, while development of 75-100-metre-wide greenways with cycling and walking trails have been suggested. However, no permanent structure will be allowed in the floodplain.

“The health of all environmental assets shall be monitored from time to time,” the draft plan states.

Growth in Delhi’s green cover will be carried out by using only native plants and species, which will act as pollution filters, while techniques such as Miyawaki forests and smog absorption towers can be adopted at hotspots. A “tree directory” will also be maintained, with each agency identifying unique tree corridors or heritage trees in its area.

Pavements, roads and roofs will be constructed or coated with light-coloured materials, with a high albedo value wherever possible. “This can reduce local temperature by 3-5 degrees Celsius. Road sections shall include appropriate trees and buffers to reduce air and noise pollution, as well as sustainable urban drainage components.”

To further reduce air pollution, MPD 41 prescribes adoption of mix-use and transit-oriented development to reduce average trip lengths and bring jobs and homes closer to transit networks.

Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at Centre for Science and Environment, says for the first time, new principles of urban planning have been adopted explicitly to control vehicular pollution, which is a good sign. “However, there is still scope and need for further tightening of the action targets for all pollution sources and overall air quality,” she said.

Congress continues to crumble: Jitin Prasada joins BJP

Former Union Minister and senior Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh Jitin Prasada joined BJP in presence of union railway minister Piyush Goyal and Rajya Sabha member Anil Baluni at party headquarters, giving a big jolt to the Congress party.

Welcoming Prasada, Goyal praised his commitment to serve the people and said that he (Prasada) will play an important role in Uttar Pradesh. “He will have a major role in Uttar Pradesh politics in the future. He is someone who is connected to the ground realities and is a popular leader in the state,” Goyal said. Prasada thanked BJP president JP Nadda, prime minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah for accepting him in the saffron fold.

Prasada said, “The question is not why I’m leaving a party but why I’m joining another party. If there is a party in the real sense today, an institutional party, then it is the BJP. Other parties are either regional or person specific.”

After joining BJP, Prasada said, “I feel there is no purpose of your doing politics or staying in a political party if a person is not able to serve or protect the interest of its people. I realised being in Congress and not being able to do the same. So, I joined BJP and my work will only speak for itself.”

The saffron party believes that Prasada joining BJP will help it pacify Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh, where the Assembly poll will be held early next year. A party insider said that Prasada could be projected as the Brahmin face of the party which is completely missing in Uttar Pradesh.

Dissent, anger and now anguish. The Congress in Uttar Pradesh sank into the realms of despair on Wednesday as soon as the news of former Union minister Jitin Prasada joining the BJP came.

The young party workers vented their ire against the party high command, particularly Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, for demolishing the Congress.

In a WhatsApp group run by these leaders, party workers ‘congratulated’ Priyanka for finishing the party.

One leader wrote, “Priyanka is directly responsible for the state of affairs. She has leased the party to left wing leaders who do not understand the ideology and culture of the Congress.”


90% green cover lost in 4 biodiversity hotspots

India and its neighbours have together lost 90% of their original natural vegetation under their four common biodiversity hotspots with the biggest one — Indo-Burma hotspot — being the worst hit by reporting loss of nearly 95% of natural vegetation from the originally estimated area of 2.3 million sq km.

The biodiversity loss figures were highlighted by the Centre for Science and Environment in its latest annual statistical compendium on the state of India’s environment, released on World Environment Day last week.

Noting that the four biodiversity hotspots have been reduced to less than 10% of their original extent, the CSE in its report also flagged that 25 plant species have gone extinct in these hotspots which cover India and its neighbour in south Asia and south-east Asia.

Besides the Indo-Burma hotspot which includes entire north-eastern India (except Assam), Andaman group of islands, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and southern China, the other three hotspots in the country are the Himalayas (Indian Himalayan region and the areas falling in neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar), Western Ghats & Sri Lanka, and Sunda Land (Nicobar group of Islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Philippines).

A ‘biodiversity hotspot’ is a region characterised both by exceptional levels of plant endemism and by serious levels of habitat loss. There are 36 biodiversity hotspots in the world.

“Each hotspot faces extreme threats and has already lost at least 70% of its original natural vegetation,” said the Botanical Survey of India.

It noted that over 50% of the world’s plant species and 42% of all terrestrial vertebrate species are endemic to the 35 biodiversity hotspots.

The CSE’s report has used and compiled the publicly available data from the ‘ecosystem accounts for India’ and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s report on endangered species. It said12% of 1,212 animal species in India, monitored by the IUCN under its Red List monitors, are endangered.

Somewhere in Bengal....


IISc ranked world’s top research varsity

The Indian Institute of Science Bangalore has been ranked as the world’s top research university, achieving a perfect score of 100 on 100, the metric of citations per faculty indicator, ahead of varsities like Princeton, Harvard, Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology and Caltech.

IIT-Guwahati too emerged as a top research institution from India, being ranked 41st for CPF (which measures research impact) among the top 50 globally. The results accounted for the distribution and performance of 14.7 million academic papers published between 2015 and 2019, and the 96 million citations received by those papers. QS World University Rankings 2022, released on Wednesday, has been done among 13,000 varsities, 145 more than in last year’s edition, from across 197 locations this year.

Indian universities have made consistent progress in QS’s Academic Reputation metric with 20 of the 35 entrants having improved their scores. In the overall rankings, despite having fallen five places from 2021 rankings, IIT-Bombay is India’s top ranked institution for the fourth consecutive year at the world university rankings, conducted by the QS Quacquarelli Symonds, global higher education analysts.

In the 18th edition of the world’s most-consulted international university rankings, three Indian universities find place among the global top 200.

There are also record breaking performances for three of India’s IITs. IIT-Delhi has become India’s second best university, having risen from193rd to185th, overtaking IISc Bangalore, which ranks joint-186th.

Among other top performers, IIT-Madras has risen 20 places, and now ranks joint-255th, which is its highest position since 2017. IIT-Kharagpur also improved its performance and is ranked at 280th, while IIT Guwahati (joint-395th) enters the global top-400 for the first time ever.

According to Amit Khare, secretary, higher education, ministry of education, “The good outcome is primarily due to the enthusiasm generated by the National Education Policy 2020 NEP among the faculty and the researchers of the institutions. This has been indicated with IISc being ranked as the global leader and also IIT-Guwahati also ranked among top 50 globally.”

However, according to the ranking report Indian institutions continue to struggle in institutional teaching capacity with 23 of India’s 35 universities have suffered declines in QS’s faculty/ student ratio indicator, with only six recording improvements. And no Indian university ranks among the top 250 for faculty/ student ratio.


Hyatt Regency Mumbai suspends operations

Hyatt Regency Mumbai, one of the premium luxury hotels of the financial capital of India, suspended operations owing to severe fund crunch.

Incidentally, the global hospitality major’s landmark property in India — Hyatt Regency Delhi (owned by a different group) — has been off Hyatt’s global booking website since at least last winter.

The Hyatt Regency Delhi, however, remains operational while the 401-room Hyatt Regency in Mumbai’s Sahar Airport Road has shut down for now with immediate effect. Clearly, Hyatt is having issues with both its landmark properties in India.

“As a result of no funds forthcoming from Asian Hotels (West) Ltd, the owner of Hyatt Regency Mumbai, to sustain the operations of the hotel, a decision has been taken to temporarily suspend all operations for Hyatt Regency Mumbai. The hotel will remain closed until further notice. Future reservations through Hyatt booking channels will remain temporarily unavailable. At Hyatt, our guests and colleagues are a top priority, and we are working closely with the hotel’s owner to resolve this situation,” Sunjae Sharma, Hyatt’s vicepresident and country head for India, said.

Hyatt Regency Mumbai’s GM, Hardip Marwah, messaged employees that the owner is not infusing funds “... to enable payment of salaries or support operation of the hotel… (it) will remain closed till further notice.” Hyatt Regency Delhi, owned by Asian Hotels (North) Ltd, has been off Hyatt’s global booking website for months.

“The (Delhi) hotel is open and functional. If anyone wants to book, (they) can call the hotel to book directly or (they can) book through third party channels,” Hyatt Regency Delhi said last November in an official statement. The situation, “is the same,” said an official of Hyatt Regency Delhi on Monday.

Madras HC: Don’t try to change sexual orientation of LGBTIQA+

The Madras high court suggested a ban on health professionals from attempting to medically ‘cure or change’ the sexual orientation of LGBTIQA+ people to heterosexual or the gender identity of transgender people to cisgender. The court also directed National Medical Commission, Indian Psychiatric Society and Rehabilitation Council of India to take action, including withdrawal of licence to practice, against professionals involved in any form or method of conversion “therapy” to LGBTIQA+ members.

Justice N Anand Venkatesh laid down a slew of guidelines covering issues ranging from gender-neutral restrooms for the gender-nonconforming student and help to change name/gender on academic records for transgender persons, besides suggesting separate jails for transsexuals.

These are among the directives issued by Justice Anand Venkatesh, who chose to undergo ‘psycho-education’ under qualified counsellors to understand same-sex relationship issues, before writing the 125-page verdict.

The case relates to a Madurai-based lesbian couple, aged 23 and 20 years, who chose to live as a married couple. Facing resistance from their families, they fled to Chennai and took refuge with an NGO. As police continued to visit them following complaints lodged by their parents, the two had moved the high court to restrain cops from harassing them.

Justice Anand Venkatesh said: “The voice of this community is now getting louder and stronger and society can no more turn a deaf ear and the time has come to make that change.”

Noting that he himself was “pulled out of darkness (ignorance)” by two counsellors he had interacted with, the judge said: “The society and my upbringing have always treated the terms ‘homosexual’, ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ as anathema. A majority of the society would stand in the same position of ignorance and preconceived notions.”

He said: “I have no hesitation in accepting that I too belong to the majority of commoners who are yet to comprehend homosexuality completely. Ignorance is no justification for normalizing any form of discrimination. Therefore, I took upon myself, the vested responsibility and the duty to deliver justice in all its forms and spirit, of cutting across personal prejudices and notions and setting forth to, at the least, educate myself lest my ignorance interfere with in guiding homosexuality and the LGBTQIA+ community towards social justice.”

He said police probing man/ girl missing complaints should close them without harassing the members, if they find out that the person concerned is a consenting individual in the company of LGBTIQA+. He also suggested the Union and state governments effect change in curricula to educate students.

The voice of this community (LGBTIQA+) is getting louder and stronger and society can no more turn a deaf ear. The time has come to make that change…

I have no hesitation in accepting that I too belong to the majority of commoners who are yet to comprehend homosexuality completely. Ignorance is no justification for normalising any form of discrimination — JUSTICE N ANAND VENKATESH of Madras HC

Mumbai: 712 acres of Aarey forest land handed over to SGNP

Aarey Colony land declared as a forest last year was formally handed over to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park authorities on Monday. The newly appointed chief executive officer of Aarey Colony formally handed over a total 712 acres to the SGNP director. In 2019, the state government had handed over 100 acres for a zoo. This is now part of the Aarey forest. An additional 90 acres in possession of the SGNP is reserved for relief and rehabilitation of tribals and slum dwellers.

The long overdue handover is a significant victory for the citizens’ movement in the city. The Save Aarey Movement, which began in 2015 to protest the cutting of trees for the Metro Line 3 car shed, saw the Uddhav Thackeray government formally declare 800 acres as a forest. However, the uncertainty over the shifting of the metro car shed continues.

The SGNP will now be responsible for conservation and protection of the new forest land.

G Mallikarjun, director SGNP, said the state revenue and forest department has sanctioned the post of a forester and four forest guards for the additional forest area which made the takeover possible.

While 800 acres were declared as forest last year, five acres will be returned to the dairy development department as it was earlier earmarked for a police station. “The five acres will be returned in due course before the final notification declaring the area as forest is issued,” he said. The government had been keen to hand over the land to SGNP as frequent fires in Aarey “were maligning the government’s image”.

Bengal’s last outposts on the bay abandoned

Mousuni and Ghoramara, Bengal’s last outposts in the Bay of Bengal, are finally being abandoned. Struck by four cyclones in 24 months — Fani in May 2019, Bulbul in November 2019, Amphan in May 2020 and Yaas in May 2021 — the resilience of the 23,000 residents battling the odds in these ever-shrinking islands in the Sunderbans archipelago has broken down and many are calling it quits. They have decided to leave the perilous existence behind and walk into an equally uncertain future.

“We have seen enough. Each year, some of us lose our homes as the sea relentlessly gnaws at the island. We were just about surviving till the sea surge caused by cyclone Yaas snatched everything that we possessed. We have somehow managed to save our lives. Next time, we may not even be that lucky,” said Majed Shah, a resident of Bagdanga mouja in the island who has become a climate refugee like many others and moved to a relative’s house in Frazerganj.

Shah (55) was born in Mousuni and once owned two bighas of land but the hungry tides had reduced it to a small patch. That, too, was lost in last month’s cyclone. The high tidal waves that swept away homes in the twin islands have still not receded and the saline water has destroyed the farmlands and killed livestock. Ghoramara residents Gobindo Karak and Tapas Karak, both farmers, have lost their farms where paddy and betel vines grew. The repeated wrath of cyclones and rising sea water have broken their will to fight and survive. The duo have joined the exodus with their families. “I can’t take this life of uncertainty anymore. I have moved to a cousin’s place in Kakdwip. I hope to buy a small plot of land and settle there permanently,” said Gobinda Karak who has managed to salvage four cows and six lambs. Tapas Karak has also sent his family to a relative’s house near Kakdwip and is attempting to salvage whatever he can from his home that has been damaged beyond repair.

Mousuni and Ghoramara islands are located around 120km from Kolkata at the southernmost tip of the state and are among the remotest permanently inhabited islands in the Bay of Bengal.

SC orders demolition of 10k houses in Aravali

The Supreme Court ordered Faridabad Municipal Corporation to clear the eco-sensitive Aravali forest land of encroachments within six weeks and demolish around 10,000 houses built unauthorisedly in Lakkarpur-Khori village. It put the onus of compliance on the Haryana forest secretary and the commissioner of the civic body.

Appearing for a village resident, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves pleaded for mercy and said most inhabitants of the village could be given houses at alternative sites if the Haryana government rehabilitation policy cut-off was advanced from 2003 to 2015. "Most of them have been living there since the 1980s when mining was carried on in Aravali. But they don't have documents to prove it. They have proof of residence since 2010," he said.

A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari said it was surprising that the authorities had not demolished unauthorised houses on forest land despite SC orders passed in February last year and in April this year. The civic body, through senior advocate Arun Bharadwaj, said the villagers resorted to stone pelting when corporation officials attempted a demolition drive.

When Gonsalves said the residents were willing to vacate the houses if they were provided alternative accommodation by the government under a rehabilitation plan, the bench said, "Who is arguing this, land grabbers? It is forest land. So, there can be no compromise in restoring and maintaining its character. You vacate, or we direct eviction."

The SC had stopped mining activities in the Aravalis by several orders since 2001. But the area in Lakkarpur-Khori saw thousands of families settle down and build houses right under the nose of police and civic authority officials till the Supreme Court intervened and sought removal of encroachments from forest land, termed ecologically fragile by environmentalists.

The bench of Justices Khanwilkar and Maheshwari reiterated its directions of February 19, 2020, and April 5, 2021, and directed the municipal corporation and the state government to remove all encroachments from the forest land within six weeks. It asked the municipal commissioner and the state’s forest secretary to file affidavits of compliance and said their reports on removal of unauthorised houses on forest land would be verified by an independent team.

It told counsel for Haryana government, Ruchi Kohli, that the state must take appropriate steps to implement SC orders failing which the state chief secretary would be made answerable, if necessary. It said the Faridabad SP will be personally responsible for providing adequate forces to facilitate corporation officials to carry out the demolition drive. The SC posted the matter for further hearing on July 27.

Sensex, Nifty Close at Fresh Record Highs

Stock indices ended at fresh record closing highs on Monday, with the Nifty ending above 15,750 for the first time, as daily Covid-19 cases in India hit a two month low, encouraging some states to ease curbs. Gains were however measured after foreign funds turned net sellers for the first time in June. Money managers said the undertone remains optimistic but the 7.6% advance in stock benchmarks since early May has slowed down the momentum.

Domestic institutional investors purchased shares worth ₹984 crore on Monday.

Foreign portfolio investors sold shares worth ₹186.5 crore, having been buyers to the tune of ₹820 crore on average daily so far in June. They have pumped ₹4,117 crore into stocks so far this month.

The consistent drop in infections and rise in recoveries has prompted Maharashtra and Delhi to partially ease restrictions.

There’s a sense of relief in the market that the Covid situation has improved dramatically from the second week of May, said Hemang Jani, head of equity strategy, broking and distribution, Motilal Oswal Securities. The impact of lockdowns on earnings would be much less severe than in the worst-case scenario had restrictions stretched beyond two months, he said. “India has outperformed most markets in the last three or four weeks.”

Holland said equities are likely to do better in the near term as other avenues such as fixed deposits and gold are not offering large returns to investors.

Tata Digital to Put $75 M in Curefit

Tata Digital, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Tata group, will invest $75 million in fitness startup Curefit.

Mukesh Bansal, founder and CEO of the Bengaluru-based startup, will join Tata Digital as president. He will, however, continue in his leadership role at Curefit, recently renamed Cultfit.

The investment — for which Tata Digital has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Curefit — is subject to completion of the diligence process and other approvals, Tata Digital said in a statement.

Curefit was last valued at around $800 million, just before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year when Singapore’s Temasek had invested in the firm.

In his new role, Bansal will work closely with Tata Digital CEO Pratik Pal, who has been leading the group’s digital investments in companies like BigBasket. The Tata group is also in the last leg of closing its acquisition of e-pharmacy 1mg, where it is expected to purchase a 55% stake.

Bansal previously founded fashion ecommerce platform Myntra, before selling it to Flipkart for $330 million in 2014. “With his (Mukesh Bansal’s) deep consumer experience and an entrepreneurial mindset of having incubated and grown two very successful businesses, his expertise will bring immense value to us,” said N Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons.

Bansal said joining Tata Digital marks an ‘exciting new step’ for him and his team. “Being part of Tata Digital will enable us to nationally scale up our offerings for our customers. Tata Digital has a highly inspiring vision to create a next-generation consumer platform…,” Bansal added.

Free COVID vax for 18+ from June 21: PM Modi

As the second wave of coronavirus has been indicating a declining trend in India for the last few days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced that all Indians above 18 years of age will be administered free Covid-19 vaccine from June 21.

Addressing the nation, the Prime Minister made it clear that the states will be provided these vaccine doses free of cost from Central government.

“The government of India will provide free vaccine to the states from Monday, June 21, in every state for all citizens above the age of 18 years,” Modi said.

The Prime Minister said that government of India itself will buy 75 per cent of the total vaccine production from vaccine manufacturers and give it free to the state governments.

Modi also said that 25 per cent of the vaccines being made in the country will be provided directly to the private sector hospitals while they will be able to charge a maximum service fee of Rs 150 for a single dose after the fixed price of the vaccine.

“The task of monitoring it will remain with the state governments,” the Prime Minister added.

“No state government of the country will have to spend anything on the vaccine,” Modi further announced.

Till now, the Prime Minister said crores of people of the country have got free vaccine. “Now people of 18 years of age will also join it.”

“Only the Government of India will provide free vaccine to all the countrymen,” the Prime Minister reiterated.

It was decided on Monday that the government of India will also bear the responsibility of 25 per cent of the work related to vaccination with the state governments, said the Prime Minister, adding “this arrangement will be implemented in the coming two weeks.”

“In these two weeks, the central and state governments will together make necessary preparations according to the new guidelines.”

He also announced that Covid-19 vaccine supply would increase in the country in coming days and trial for three more vaccine is going on.

“Currently, seven companies are producing different types of vaccines in the country and trial of three more vaccines is also going on in advanced stage,” the Prime Minister said.